Acts 10 tells us the story of how the first Gentile (Cornelius) became a Christian and the extraordinary methods God used to bring this event to pass. We have already seen (Acts 8) how God used supernatural methods to heal the Jewish-Samaritan rift and to bring the gospel to an Ethiopian individual, but now we see centuries of division, hatred and prejudice broken as God uses Peter to bring the gospel to a Roman centurion.
It’s ironic that the angelic vision given to Cornelius, instructing him to send for Peter, staying with a tanner called Simon at Joppa, although terrifying, is received with prompt obedience (Cornelius was used to giving commands and responded to the specific commands given to him with commendable promptness) whilst Peter, on the other hand, needs a vision of bewildering proportion (involving a trance, a sheet filled with all kinds of ceremonially unclean animals, reptiles and birds and the apparently bizarre command to kill and eat these) which is repeated three times and then the remarkable timing of three men appearing at Simon’s house and the Spirit’s prompting to go with them before he has even the faintest inkling of what is going on! This story gives us insight into the extraordinary lengths to which God will go to reach people (not surprising when we think of the whole salvation story, which involved Jesus leaving the splendour of heaven to put on human flesh, as Phil 2:6-11), but which nonetheless leaves us in awe and wonder. Peter only really understands all that has happened when he says, ‘I now realise how true it is that God does not show favouritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.’ (Acts 10:34-35) and subsequently see the Holy Spirit fall on this group of uncircumcised men. (Acts 10:47) He has been part of God’s marvellous plan to bring salvation to all people, fulfilling His promises to bless all the earth through Abraham (Gen 12:1-5).
This story is so remarkable it features again in Acts 11 and becomes the point at which the church finally begins to understand what Jesus meant by being witnesses to the far ends of the earth. (Acts 1:8) The implications of God accepting Gentiles without the need for circumcision would take years to be worked out fully, but the truth that God has no favourites and is willing to accept all who will believe is one that needs shouting from the rooftops! The church is a multi-racial, multi-cultural organism. Every nation, tribe, people and language will one day stand before the throne in worship (see Rev 5:9, Rev 7:9) and Cornelius will surely be there among them!